Masters of the Beach

GULF OF THAILAND - (February 13, 2009) - Conducting a full-scale amphibious assault requires a great deal of manpower and coordination. It involves the transportation of hundreds of Marines and dozens of vehicles.

When it comes to amphibious assaults from the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), that's where Beach Master Unit One (BMU-1), Western Pacific comes in. It's their job to ensure Marines, supplies, landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) vehicles and landing craft utility (LCU) vehicles get safely ashore.

BMU-1 Sailors ensure safety by training on proper signaling techniques and proper safety procedures for bystanders so they don't get hit by debris from propeller blast.

"We normally get in real early and do a foreign-object-damage (FOD) walk-down on the staging area of the beach to make sure there is no debris that can damage the LCACs," said Quartermaster 1st Class (SW/AW) Melvin Cassidy, a BMU-1 beach master from Biscoe, N.C.

Performing a landing requires five beach masters to safely carry out the mission: a senior ramp marshal (RM), who is in charge of the entire landing, three RMs who land the LCACs, and a radio telephone operator (RTO), who communicates with the Assault Craft Unit (ACU) on when and where to bring the LCACs.

Before each landing, the senior RM gives a safety brief to all personnel on the beach in regards to where they can stand and where to be when the LCAC lands or departs.

"During any landing, the RM has a 30-yard area from each side of the LCAC where no one can stand. The RM is an additional 50 yards away, a total of 80 yards, to make sure he and no one else gets hit by debris," said Cassidy.

After the LCAC lands, the all clear signal is given, the ramp to the LCAC is lowered and vehicles and troops storm the beach.

BMU-1 recently demonstrated these skills when they performed numerous amphibious assaults on the beaches of Thailand as part of Cobra Gold 09 (CG 09).

The job requires highly-skilled personnel. Before becoming part of a Beach Master Unit, Sailors must go through extensive training that continues throughout their career.

"We go to San Diego every year for 30 days or so to do training with our stateside counterparts," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Miguel Reyes-Flores. "We give and get training on various LCAC operations, how to work with Seabees and SEAL team ops."

The training received is valuable since BMU-1 Sailors put the training to good use. Being forward-deployed means frequent amphibious assault exercises.

"Being a beach master can be complicated at first, but after you learn the job, it's easy," said Seaman (SW/AW) Christopher Smith from Washington, D.C. "We go out there to get troops and supplies to the beach as safely and quickly as possible. During an actual assault, we can have four or five LCACs beached and have a command center set up within 30 minutes."

Beach masters feel most rewarded when the mission is accomplished; all troops are safely on the beach and the last LCAC has left and is safely aboard Essex. Only then can the BMU rest and get ready for the next day, said Smith.

CG 09 is an annual Kingdom of Thailand and U.S. co-sponsored military exercise designed to train U.S. and partner Asian-pacific nation forces. The exercise also includes humanitarian civic action projects with participating nations from Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S. The U.S. also engages with Thai military forces in a field training exercise to promote familiarity with and cohesion between these partner nation's military forces. CG 09 provides a unique and dynamic environment to strengthen the bond between these partner militaries and the Thai community.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.


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